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"War on Christmas"

Every year, The Usual Suspects get their underwear in a wad over the "war on Christmas." This "war" seems to consist of saying "happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." I have to say, this whole brouhaha is (as typical with The Usual Suspects) historically illiterate.

First, Christmas is at least somewhat a pagan holiday. There is no date given in the Bible for Jesus's birth, and the contextual evidence points to March or April, not December. (Shepherds aren't in the fields in winter because the sheep are in barns. They are out in spring because the sheep are out having baby sheep.) Christmas was set on December 25 because that was around the date of a Roman holiday, Saturnalia, a celebration of the Roman god Saturn. (Also a bit of a drunk-fest.)

Second, I knew that at least some Christians, most notably the Puritans of Massachusetts, had outlawed the celebration of Christmas. (Now, that's a real war!) Then today I read this fascinating article about the history of Christmas in America.

Now, I've mentioned before that 19th century holidays tended to be rowdy drunk-fests. I learned that the tradition of caroling was really "thuggish extortion with threat of violence." I also learned that Washington Irving was the first guy put on the job of civilizing Christmas. (He failed.)

In short, (from the article) Christmas in America isn’t a religious holiday that got hijacked by secularists and merchants; it was a manufactured secular holiday, made by merchants, whose followers adapted it for religious purposes.

So anybody complaining about a "war on Christmas" gets short sympathy from me.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 20th, 2013 12:31 pm (UTC)

Easter was pretty much the same story: No one knows when the events actually happened, so the early Church hijacked the spring fertility festivals to suit… which is why we have the weird juxtaposition of eggs, bunny rabbits - and Jesus.

[Somebody here did some “Easter Cards” a while back showing Jesus hopping along with a basket and a bloodily crucified rabbit. Peope were seriously Not Amused.]

Dec. 20th, 2013 12:51 pm (UTC)
Well, no we DO know when Easter happened. The Last Supper was a Passover celebration, and we know (generally) what time of year (spring in the northern hemisphere, or so Wikipedia says.

The other fertility stuff (like bunnies) was grafted on later, tying into pagan spring celebrations.
Dec. 20th, 2013 01:19 pm (UTC)
I think Jon Stewart skewered some of this nicely last year with a picture of Congress sitting in session on Christmas Day in the 1820s or so.

The idea that it's a holiday you get off and celebrate apart from Church is, umm... a bit socialist :)

Given Megyn Kelly's fixation with the race of Santa, she ought to remember that the modern Santa Claus is also a marketing invention of a certain soft drink manufacturer.
Dec. 20th, 2013 02:42 pm (UTC)

The only way Clement Clarke Moore could have been working for Coca-Cola is if he invented it… and then forgot it. Or else he was a time traveller. (Hey, you never know. People find “time travellers” in all sorts of imagery - check out Youtube on it.)

Dec. 20th, 2013 04:38 pm (UTC)
Interesting, didn't know that. Funny thing, the soft drinks company in question embrace the claim on their website.
Dec. 20th, 2013 09:53 pm (UTC)

Well, now, advertising does have its place: Haddon Sundblom (I believe it was) did nail down the conception that old St Nick wore union-suit red instead of a fur coat as Mr Moore describes him. Before that he was often depicted in green as well. But Coca-Cola did not invent Santa Claus, any more that C Dickens invented the telling of ghost stories at Christmas: Both played on an existing and recognized tradition.

Dec. 20th, 2013 01:39 pm (UTC)
By the bye, the main point of the “War on Christmas” business is not ignorance of the various origins of the holiday - it's a reaction to the multi-culti double-standard that All (Other) Cultures are Superior, the insistence that anything, anything at all, must be better (or declared so) than whatever those straight, white, Bible-thumping gun-owning Republican males may want!

So you get made-up crap like Kwanzaa (which I've noticed is fading away, save among a very few die-hards) and occasionally amusing stuff like “Festivus,” but what it mainly means is relentlessly secular, often vulgar and always ugly PC crap like the yowling, howling, squealing, caterwauling “black female vocalists” that are (or were!) inflicted upon us at Wal Mart every year. Like far too many of the managers there, those don't need to be good - they're Correct, which overrides any consideration of quality (or competence).

The War on Christmas is perceived as an attack upon the fabric of the nation, by people who shouldn't win. Who mustn't win, if this Republic is to survive. Unfortunately that war is just about over, but at least people are still agitated about it! Even now, it wouldn't take long for America to revive, if the Hollyork/Washington DC spell were broken.

Gosh, where's Guy Fawkes when y' need him?

(Did you know, that plot almost happened? It was only at the last minute that it was discovered! The map of London would have needed redrawing to include the lunar crater where Parliament used to be…)
Dec. 20th, 2013 02:27 pm (UTC)
The thing is, the people screaming loudly about the 'War on Christmas' are missing a few things:

2) Christmas as they perceive it is a really REALLY recent invention, last 120ish years recent - the reason Scrooge wasn't giving Bob Cratchett Christmas Day off is it was a working day... and we know who forced the honest job makers to accept all those stupid holidays...
3) Yes, it can be offensive to some people to wish them a Merry Christmas when they're not Christians... on the other hand, the correct response by ANYBODY to being wish a Merry _something_ is to say "Thank you, and you too..."

That said, the alternative form of Merry Christmas in the UK has been Seasons Greetings for as long as I can remember and that works too.
Dec. 20th, 2013 02:59 pm (UTC)
You can also dodge the whole question and just wish people a Happy New Year, in Soviet fashion. [Though «С Новым Годом!» really means “A New Year!” I guess if Dear Leader lets you have another year you're presumed to be happy on general principles…]
Dec. 20th, 2013 04:40 pm (UTC)
Well, there's some religious agreement with the Soviet position, if my memory serves the Russian Orthodox, and in fact, the other orthodox faiths tend to celebrate the Epiphany ahead of Christmas anyway.
Dec. 20th, 2013 05:22 pm (UTC)
I know all my Orthodox coworkers (Greek, Ukrainian and Serbian) don't celebrate Christmas, but do take Epiphany off of work. I would assume that the Russians do the same.
Dec. 20th, 2013 03:02 pm (UTC)

Yes - when was the last time your place of business shut down at noon the day before Kwanza? Or Passover? Or really any religious holiday?
Dec. 20th, 2013 04:43 pm (UTC)
Well, coming from the UK, that would be Easter, specifically Good Friday and Easter Monday :)
Dec. 20th, 2013 05:24 pm (UTC)
I did not know that. (Perhaps that's obvious.)

Which makes me wonder why America didn't pick up the same custom.

It also clarifies why all the UK-ians in SF talk about Eastercon like it was a big deal.
Dec. 20th, 2013 07:20 pm (UTC)
Well it is the national con, but yes, it's a 4 day weekend so it's an ideal weekend.
Dec. 20th, 2013 07:21 pm (UTC)
UK has a state religion of course :)

I'm thinking that's a good way to defang Christianity ;)
Dec. 20th, 2013 03:40 pm (UTC)
Heh. Similar to Thanksgiving. The real 1621 Pilgrims/Indians Turkey Day was a rowdy three day event with target shooting. Mostly the Pilgrims thanking the Indians for, yes, giving them food all year, giving them seed and teaching them how to plant it -- all that stuff that survives more or less accurately in construction paper on school windows. So we're doing it right.

Dunno at what point the Christians jumped aboard, but the politicians hijacked it in 1863 iirc. And FDR moved it up a week for the sake of Black Friday.
Dec. 20th, 2013 07:25 pm (UTC)
As a counterpoint to the shepherds, according to Alfred Edersheim, Levitical shepherds did keep sacrificial lambs in the fields year round for monthly sacrifices. So it is conceivably possible shepherds would have been outside in December.

Early Christians also worked out December as one of two possibilities by starting with what was known about Zacharias(father of John the Baptist) and when he would have been working in the Temple which would happen twice a year. From there you can get a rough conception date for John and Jesus was born roughly six months after John. But the Jewish Calendar was 360 days so you get even more uncertainty.

So of course there is no way to be sure and that doesn't change the history of the holiday as you lay it out. It didn't start as a Christian holiday but Christianity transformed it when it became dominant.

I am glad the tradition of caroling has mellowed over time.
Dec. 26th, 2013 11:14 am (UTC)
Trick or Treat - Again!

I was going to say, I agree with you on 19th century “wassailing” being something you'd want to meet with a pump shotgun: If you watch the Albert Finney musical version of Scrooge you'll see the director working with this - carolers didn't just pass the hat (or leave it lay), they pounded on your door! If you're smart, you threw money over their heads from an upstairs window, that they had to turn away to retrieve! Turned away, they'd go away…

Unfortunately, your source, well, I had to double-check to make sure it wasn't written by Michael Bellesiles, because it certainly reads like it. Not only is that entire entry formatted in “Semantic Bias” font, and steeped in such raw hatred that Louis Farrakhan would applaud it, but it is perfectly willing to make ridiculous statements like the claim that apples were not grown for food, but ONLY for making alcohol. Uh huh. All that's needed is to not bother checking, and hey, you can believe anything! [Where does he think 'early Americans' came from? I promise you people ate apples in England!]

[“in the early 1810s a group of concerned upstanding citizens (read: rich white men)” - Read, “Semantic bias” - the one does not imply the other by any means, but when it's fashionable to be fired up with indignation over 'robber barons' and other 'top-hat capitalists' who exploited the poor downtrodden Oppressed Victims™, describing people you don't like as “rich white men” will do the trick! Meanwhile K Cameron is not a B-list actor, he's a “direct-to-video star” and a “Christianist activist” - it soundist a littlist like Piggist Latinist. “Hairspray sponge” is a cute, belittling pocket description, and oh, Sarah Palin did not write a book, it's a “ghostwritten” (how does he know that?) “cash cow.” Never mind that she's written two other books already, she must be depicted as stupid, and that's why it's supposedly “ghostwritten.” Isn't he cute?]

It's an interesting bit of light reading, but he should have handed his rough draft to someone NOT cranked up as a lifestyle with hatred of revanchist saboteurs of the Revolution and enemies of the State, and let him write the actual article. The result would have been much more palatable.

Edited at 2013-12-26 03:23 pm (UTC)
Dec. 26th, 2013 11:50 am (UTC)

N B  This same “extremism in promoting extremism is no vice” mentality is why I long ago quit reading Cal Thomas and then Ann Coulter - C Thomas' major peeve was that no one would let him be the Grand Ayatollah of America, and Ann Coulter, as I said, was trapped in a “Can You Top This” game to stay in the headlines with ever-more-extreme and increasingly absurd claims and charges until she just imploded and disappeared. This was a shame, because I have articles she wrote originally that needed to be read, and heard, and acted upon if individual freedom in this country is to be defended and maintained. She was right, but she got greedy, and who listens to her now?

Speaking of greed, whatever happened to Michael Moore?

Dec. 26th, 2013 03:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Trick or Treat - Again!
As Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, so sometimes "rich white men" are just "rich white men."

( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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This is the personal blog of Chris Gerrib, and all opinions expressed here are solely his own. Commenters are welcome; however please be polite to me and my other readers. I reserve the right to delete comments that are rude, inappropriate or otherwise objectionable at my sole discretion. The opinions expressed in a comment are not necessarily mine, and if I do not delete a comment that should not be construed as my agreement with the commenter.

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